Juneau residents who attract bears by ignoring the city's trash ordinance used to get warnings. Since Bob Dilley began working the city's enforcement beat in February, about 100 residents have been ticketed for improperly storing their garbage.
"When people don't take care of their trash, the bears can just come in and take what they want; it's basically six days of free eating," said Dilley, a community service officer.
City laws passed last year and strengthened in April, along with a public awareness campaign, aim to dissuade bears from entering residential areas to raid trash bins and garbage cans.
Before the Juneau Assembly created Dilley's position last year, the job of enforcing the garbage ordinance was held by community service officers with other responsibilities, and the law rarely was enforced. Under the new garbage detail position, Dilley patrols the city five days a week.
"Pretty much my whole job is dealing with this garbage issue," Dilley said. "That's not to say I won't write a parking ticket if I see one along the way."
Pat Costello, an advocate for dealing with urban bear problems, said the city has improved garbage law enforcement since last year, but he would like to see more officers assigned to help enforce the laws.
"In a best-case scenario, you'd have several of these officers working various shifts," said Costello, who runs the Web site www.juneaubears.com and has played a major role in bringing the issue to the Assembly's attention.
He said laws requiring metal lids on Dumpsters, the city's designation of "bear problem areas" and stricter enforcement of the existing laws are encouraging. But he said many people still aren't following the law.
"Some folks have done what they're supposed to, but a lot have not," Costello said. "You can still drive around and see trash cans sitting beside peoples' houses."
Under the ordinance passed in May 2001, residents are required to put garbage out no earlier than 4 a.m. on the day of pickup, cover trash cans containing food waste and label the cans with the owner's address. The rest of the week garbage cans must be stored in a closed garage or other bear-resistant enclosure.
Dilley said most people are paying better attention to how they store their garbage since the city began a public awareness campaign in April.
Maria Gladziszewski, tourism director for the city who helped with the campaign, said it consists of public service announcements on local radio stations and in newspapers, prominently displayed signs and posters, educational mailers, door-to-door campaigns and programs for students grades six through eight.
"Cities all over the U.S. have tried to get out this message about keeping garbage away from bears," Gladziszewski said. "Juneau is one of the communities that has backed this up with responsible law."
But despite attempts to get the message out, Dilley said there are still daily violations of the ordinance.
First-time household garbage violations warrant a $25 ticket, with second and third violations increasing to $50 and $100. Dilley said he has given three second-violation tickets and no third-violation tickets.
He gave out one of the $50 tickets last week to a woman who still had not cleaned the garbage she was cited for three days earlier.
"She had cleaned up some of it, but there was still a can's worth of garbage laying on the ground," Dilley said.
Dilley has been called into court twice since February by people contesting the tickets, but the city won in both cases, he said.
Dilley said people often claim they are not aware of the ordinance or use the excuse that they thought it was not a year-round law because bears hibernate in the winter. But he said it is important to enforce the law all year so people get into the habit for the spring and summer months.
"A lot of people in Douglas use the excuse that the wind blew the lid away," Dilley said, noting that the problem is easily fixed by holding trash can lids down with bungee chords.
Despite the excuses, Dilley said most people are following the ordinance and taking an interest in keeping bears out of the trash.
During a Friday patrol of the Lemon Creek area, one neighbor flagged down Dilley's blue-and-white patrol car to ask him about the local law.
"Somebody showing some actual interest that's encouraging," Dilley said.
Though many residents are following the ordinance more closely, Dilley acknowledged that some areas will have a more difficult time abiding by the law. Residents in areas such as the Switzer Village Mobile Home Park face the challenge of not having a garage or bear-resistant enclosure to store their garbage in during the week. These residents are forced to keep garbage inside their homes until pickup day.
In addition to patrolling garbage cans throughout the area, Dilley has issued about 150 notices to owners of Dumpsters who have not retrofitted their garbage bins with metal lids. Garbage bins located in the so-called "bear problem areas" must be fitted with the lids or placed on a waiting list to have the work completed by Dec. 31. After that date trash bin violations will run at $50, $100 and $300 for first, second and third violations. The law requires all restaurant Dumpsters be retrofitted immediately.
Gladziszewski said about half of the 200 Dumpsters in bear problem areas have been retrofitted. A detailed map identifying bear problem areas can be found at www.juneau.org/bears.
Some Dumpsters, such as one in the Crow Hill Condominium Complex, have been hit more than others, prompting the city to move them up the priority list to be retrofitted, Gladziszewski said. She said bears more commonly hit the Dumpsters next to the woods, such as those at Crow Hill.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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